Surviving Financially to Age 85 Increases Retirement Confidence

Most of those ages 85 and over are comfortable with their finances for a couple of reasons, a survey from the Society of Actuaries finds.

Seventy-eight percent of retirees ages 85 and older say they are at least somewhat secure in their finances, with 33% reporting they are very secure, according to a Society of Actuaries (SOA) survey.

By comparison, the SOA’s ninth biennial Risks and Process of Retirement Survey identified an overall increase in the level of concern for finances among respondents ages 40 to 80. A significant number of retirees and pre-retirees reported in that survey that they feel unprepared to navigate financial shocks and unexpected expenses.

The new survey suggests that if retirees are able to survive financially to age 85, concerns about finances drop significantly.

Most of those ages 85 and over are comfortable with their finances for a couple of reasons: They have a shorter time horizon than at an earlier stage of retirement and no longer think about longevity as a big factor in their finances, and they also tend to be frugal and don’t have a large amount of expense to cover. “These older Americans have learned to balance income and spending in the short run, and this has become integral to their financial management process,” the survey report says.

Almost all respondents (96%) receive Social Security income and about half (53%) receive income from a pension. The SOA found that even though most have incomes of less than $2,000 per month, they usually do not spend more than their income. Most report spending less now than they did in the past, especially on travel and entertainment. And, while most have far fewer assets than might be recommended, they use these assets as an emergency fund that they don’t tap often at their current age except to take the required minimum distribution, which they don’t necessarily spend.

Those 85 and older do not often report that financial shocks, such as increased utility bills (23%) home repairs (13%), medical expenses (19%), car repairs (5%), or dental bills (13%), have a major impact on their finances.  In comparison, 61% of pre-retirees and 47% of retirees feel unprepared for expenses in retirement that could deplete their assets, based on the previous SOA survey of consumers ages 45 to 80.

Eighty-six percent of retirees ages 85 and older report receiving no financial aid support from family, although 32% receive support with physical activities such as transportation, meals or household chores.

While the SOA did find greater financial security among older retirees, one thing it found lacking was preparation for long-term care needs. Despite the relatively modest asset levels of the population sampled, a significant number feel that they can save for long-term care by cutting back on spending and putting money away. “Some of the unrealistic financial expectations of this population may stem from a lack of acceptance of what long-term care may involve some day… A significant number of those ages 85 and over receive some type of physical support from their children. The in-depth interviews suggest that many understand that the level of support will have to increase as they age—they simply don’t understand how extensive the help needed would be in the event of a major physical or mental decline. While most people would prefer to be cared for at home, among adult children who have parents requiring care, most of those parents ended up in assisted living or a nursing home. It seems that the care pieced together by aides/home health workers and children eventually falls apart. Thus, while most of those 85 and over can manage financially while healthy, they are not prepared for the financial burden of intensive care,” the SOA says.

But, the findings suggest hope for future generations. More than one-quarter of adult children say that caring for a parent has taught them to better prepare financially.